Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A transformative moment

What Americans find admirable we don't necessarily consider presidential. See Adlai Stevenson. Barack Obama gave a wonderful speech on race & religion. Media & intelligensia liked it. Liberals loved it. Some conservatives have gone easy on it, since it's mined with dangerous truths & associations they'd rather not discuss. Many commentators call the speech "historic" & "transformative." What about everyone else?

The problem with "transformative" speeches - & there have been a number of famous ones throughout American history - is that they may presage changes to the political & cultural mainstream years in the future. Ronald Reagan's televised "rendezvous with destiny" talk in 1964 on behalf of Barry Goldwater is a well-known example. Obama's speech must also be heard as a campaign speech in the present. In that sense I'm not certain the damage done to Obama by Rev. Wright can be repaired between now & November. The damage would be in the form of limits to his popularity, an inability to expand upon his base, & falling short of 270 electoral votes. Obama speaks his mind. He stands by his friend if not by his friend's views. He's genuinely religious, take that Christian Right. Admirable. But.

One of the worst things that can happen to a candidate is when a negative idea, a doubt, a burr, gets stuck in the public's mind & can't be unstuck no matter what logic & fact tell us. The Litlle Girl & Atomic Bomb with Goldwater. The Willie Horton with Dukakis. The Swift Boat with Kerry. Now the God damn America with Obama? It's probably a transformative speech all right. But the transformative moment in Obama's campaign may have occurred last week when all those You Tube videos of Rev. Jeremiah Wright became hot links.


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